WHO IS THE JOHNNY APPLESEED FOR THE OAK TREE

October 3, 2011 6:52 am Published by 8 Comments

It’s fall, so I am walking as much as possible on the trails of Presque Isle.  This IS the fun time of the year for me. For me, Presque Isle walks this time of year should be slow and done with the idea of enjoying nature’s world that is all around us.  Walking in the fall reminds me of Isaac McLennan’s short saying in his book “Musings”;

                           Go and walk with Nature; thou wilt find

                           Full many a gem in her enchanted cup.

Last week I made a three-and-a- half hour walking loop on four different Presque Isle trails all in one walk.  I have been able to put together five blog posts from that one walk.   They will be posted here over the coming weeks.

My walk started on the Sidewalk Trail, which is directly across from The Presque Isle Lighthouse.   I walked just a short distance before turning down the Marsh Trail.  Without going into a confusing array of detail about the exact path of the walk, I will tell you that I continued the walk on the Ridge Trail and ended the walk where Fox Trail connects with my original entry point on Sidewalk Trail.

Now I know all that sounds confusing, but it is not.  All these Presque Isle trails are clearly marked and easy to find.  These trails all intersect and cross throughout the area. The whole walk was about 5.8 miles and worth the time and effort.  My book, A Walk on the Park, highlights these trails and walks, while explaining what you will see on your travels around the park.

Almost as soon as you turn onto Ridge Trail, you notice the acorns, broken and whole, that

Acorn in Moss on Presque Isle

cover much of the trail.  All you have to do is look up, and you will see that Oak trees love this area.  If you have not yet ventured onto this Presque Isle trail, in the fall, these acorns will be the first feature you notice about the footpath.  Two other qualities stand out about this area of the park.  It is quiet, almost like you are twenty miles from civilization.  The other is that you are moving up a high ridge.  This last feature will be talked about next week in a blog of its own.

Now let’s move on to the Johnny Appleseed story.  Many people do not know that Presque Isle was formed by the retreating of glaciers that covered this area and much of Northwest Pennsylvania over 14,000 years ago.  It took oaks two thousand years to move back into this region.  Geologists calculate the oaks advanced northward at a rate of nearly 400 yards a year.  That is not bad for an organism that’s rooted into the soil. 

Trees cannot get up and move, so they produce seeds that float on the breeze to continue and expand their territory.  Wait a minute, oaks produce acorns.  They do not float anywhere because they are too heavy.  Squirrels, though diligent, can’t take credit.  Most squirrels will bury their nuts only a few yards from where they find them and in rather shallow holes.  Many types of birds and other animals eat the acorns, but consuming them destroys the seed portion forever.

So who or what is the oak’s Johnny Appleseed?   I knew the answer; however, on this walk I received clear and present proof of who does this helpful deed.   When I walk on the park, I always find a quiet well-placed log to sit on and watch the world come alive.  If you just stay quiet and do not move around and make noise, after about 10 minutes the woods will return to their natural life.   Birds, animals, and insects will begin to show themselves and teach all of us about what happens in their sheltered domain.

I had been sitting for less than five minutes when a squirrel dropped acorn shells on my head from an overhanging branch about twenty feet above me.  It was not more than another two or three minutes before my Johnny Appleseed fluttered in to begin his work.  My little worker came with his family to help him with his duties.  One after another, the family cracked open acorn shells and dropped the outside shells to the ground.   They only ate a few, but flew away with most.  After watching for a while, I think that some acorns they moved were whole and others had their shells cracked off.  Over a fifteen-minute period, I think 60 or more acorns made this journey while I watched.

BLUE JAY

Who do we have to thank for spreading the oak throughout our area?  The bird is one of the most common in the United States and one recognized by almost all people.  It is the Blue Jay.  They store their winter supplies up to three to five miles away.   The bird has an expandable esophagus and can fit up to three white oak acorns in its throat at one time.  Each bird takes more than it needs and buries them in new locations.   With its beak, the Jays shove the nuts into soft soil, and then camouflage each little cache with leaves and other debris.

Blue Jays have an amazing memory about where they have buried the acorns. However, they transport so many that they usually use fewer than 70% of them.  Of course, planting future forests is not what the Jay had in mind; even so, I thank him and his family for the great work they do.

Next week we will talk about the other uses and unique facts about acorns and how they benefit Presque Isle and its wildlife.


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